Festival Reviews

Festival Review: Kendal Calling 2010

By | Published on Friday 6 August 2010

Kendal Calling

I arrived at Kendal Calling on Saturday afternoon, annoyingly missing Friday because of some perfectly redundant course that I was required to attend explaining to me the importance of confidence during a job interviews, thank you the Job Centre. This obviously meant missing Calvin Harris and the previous day’s festivities but, as it turns out, Kendal has a much limited line-up on the Friday, so it made only a little difference to my overview of the festival. Arriving on Saturday was also fortunate because it meant less traffic, less hassle and none of that waiting around in queues, which is so redolent in music festivals. So maybe I should retract my sarcasm from that earlier thank you to the Job Centre.

My mood temporarily soured by the discovery that no alcohol is allowed to be brought into the arena, meaning that a great portion of the money I thought I’d saved buying alcohol before arriving was now allocated to the expensive bars inside. Rest assured though that inner-peace was restored and after a brief trip back to the tent we made it through arena security and were greeted with a lovely, homely scene, comparable to home of the Hobbits, The Shire, or some quaint village green, decked out with bunting and shaded underneath ancient Oak trees. The sun was shining as we made a swoop of the arena before settling down to see a Howard Marks talk.

Unfortunately, Marks was late and so the first artist we saw was Mancunian singer-songwriter Danny Mahon. It was clear on the day that Mahon obviously has a large following and, even though he wasn’t billed to play at that time, a crowd of people turned up and sang nearly every word to his every song. For me though, his music did not elicit any positive feelings and I felt that it was an awful repetition of everything that has come out of Manchester since The Smiths. His songs do carry a visceral scent through strong body language but the lyrical tone he mostly falls into is a kind of jocular ribaldry, mixing his natural emotions of displeasure (of drug dealers/crack mostly) with an indelicate choice of words.

Although we waited through Mahon’s set for Howard, it was made apparent to us that he would not be talking that day and so we left to take our place under an Oak tree before the main stage and watch some acts. OK Go appeared shortly after that and they stormed through a hit heavy set, featuring ‘A Million Ways’, ‘Get Over It’, ‘This Too Shall Pass’ and many more.

In all honesty, OK Go aren’t a band I rate highly but their honest enthusiasm for the crowd and the enjoyable nature of their performance filled the hole that was carved out so brutally by Mahon only half an hour previous.

Next up, The Futureheads. Having seen them numerous times and with a full understanding of what to expect I rejoiced in their intoxicating harmonies and let their positive blast of post-punk wash over me. The band fell short of my expectations slightly with a blisteringly paced ‘Skip To The End’ that distorted the natural melody of the song, but I suspect that pacing problem was purposeful and was more of a corollary slide to fit in with the rest of their lively set, which concluded with their biggest hit to date, ‘Hounds Of Love’, much to the enjoyment of the crowd.

Following on from them was a band who I’ve longed to see for sometime and originate from Kendal itself, Wild Beasts. They had the home support and are currently a critical hit, having been selected from the multitude by the enormous and powerful finger of the Mercury Prize. So we all stood expectant of great things. Rather understandably they put on a fantastic show and were the real highlight of the day. The effortless way both Tom Fleming and Hayden Thorpe bounce off of each other’s own unique vocal style is captivating to watch and made all the more impressive as we see both of them darting around the stage switching instruments with ease.

Strangely it was their latest single ‘We Still Got The Taste Dancin On Our Tongues’ which provided one of the most absurd reactions that day as the pacing formed a frothy sea deep inside me. For some reason they took to playing the verses at speed and dropped down some 10bpm for the choruses resulting in a disorientating effect on me, it was quite unsettling but made me rejoice more as if somehow they had complete control over me.

Doves were next and were the perfect act to restore me to normality. They were luminous and lustrous and shining and all the other adjectives that centrally locate their brand of dance infused epic indie within a certain sphere of sounds. Having recently released a best of, they appear to be performing as a prestige act, sitting resplendent among the top acts within the country and enjoying their time there. They certainly gained much applause for their evening’s effort and were rapturously received; ending the night with ‘Spaceface’ was a great reminder of why the band have been around for so long and why they have experienced so much critical and public support.

Sunday started with a hangover, it crushed and bruised my battered brain and left me scrabbling around for change, desperate to get enough for a juice or a water to cool my head down. The sun was up but that would soon change as the weather kept transforming the rolling clouds, bringing with them the covering darkness, anticipating rain. As our hangovers subsided we moved into the main arena and checked out a series of small tents and activities, each showing us how diverse and creative this festival is. With all the arts and crafts going on it seems like an excellent festival to bring a family to and they really seem to cater for that type of audience. There are enough street artists, cabaret acts, jugglers, escape artists and comedians to keep everyone entertained and it finds such a suitable home here in Kendal Calling, much less psychedelic than similar acts at Glastonbury and instead much more homely and child-friendly.

The first act we saw that day was British Sea Power, another band who find their origins in Kendal. They decked out their stage in marvellous plumes of vegetation. They performed a typically quirky set appealing to fans of British Sea Power from ‘The Decline Of…’ days all the way through to 2008’s ‘Do You Like Rock Music?’, starting with the sparkling ‘A Wooden Horse’ and ending with crowd-pleaser ‘Spirit Of St Louis’. They were perfectly befitting of the surroundings, with their maudlin tone and approach suggestive of the darkening clouds that seemed to want to burst but never really could. Likewise the luscious foliage that surrounded them on stage seemed to look up to sky asking to be soaked, fitting into some underlying sense of ambience; that really the music played out to the atmosphere of festival and that the festival was not just for music.

After British Sea Power, I made my way over to the Calling Out stage to see These New Puritans. As I stood before the stage I was left wondering how they would manage to play some of those excellent loop and sample filled songs from ‘Hidden’ without either making them too unrecognisable nor too polished. Most of the songs managed to fit this bill, tracks like ‘We Want War’, ‘Holograms’ and ‘Attack Music’ settling in nicely. But then with the live sound/recorded sound differing so much between first and second albums it was always going to be difficult to bridge the gap between the two. ‘Elvis’ sounded slightly tired as a result, no doubt because the songwriting in ‘Hidden’ has so much more clarity in it than the art-rock pose of the ‘Beat Pyramid’ era. It was, however, a captivating set with Jack Barnett becoming a focal point as he swung and danced about the stage to the discordant rhythms.

And with that I met back up with my friends and we sped into the night, and in particular to the dance tent to catch the last remaining DJs before the end of the festival. Kendal Calling is a small festival but it is vibrant and has lots to see and do as well as boasting a warm and friendly atmosphere. Unfortunately, the closed off arena made it expensive and the result was a rather clunky festival where one would often find themselves returning to the tent during the afternoon when all you really wanted to do was soak in the bands.

Overall though, it was a great festival with a lot of experiences to have and a lot of music to enjoy. SJS